Raila succumbs to ODM job promises

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, must be ruing that day in December when he promised top government jobs to the ODM rank and file.

“The government is very big and there are enough jobs for everybody in ODM,” said Raila in Kiswahili when he was running for the presidency. ODM aspirants who had lost the party primaries would be employed in the civil service, diplomatic corps, judiciary, security services and state-owned corporations.

It is because of this promise that rumbles are being experienced not only in the civil service but within the ODM party. Its obvious that some people currently in top public positions will have to give way to political appointees. On the other hand, its also rather obvious that there are only limited positions to be distributed among ODM hopefuls.

Matters are made worse by the fact that ODM is in a coalition with President Mwai Kibaki’s PNU and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka’s ODM-Kenya. They are all eyeing the top jobs in order to reward their own followers.

Its largely because of delays in awarding government jobs that ODM is experiencing a crisis. Indeed, the Grand Opposition of legislator Abaabu Namwamba is a product of politicians disappointed at being left out of the cabinet. Amidst growing dissent, ODM is moving fast to assuage discontent within its masses.

With impending retirements and reshuffles within the public service, the party may have found the opportunity to deliver on its December promise. Top jobs at the Kenya Revenue Authority, KenGen, Posta among other large state-controlled organizations are up for grabs. The party also wants to appoint permanent secretaries, diplomats, military commanders and judges. Already, ODM friendly lawyers are lobbying for the removal of Chief Justice Evans Gicheru.

Recent changes are a pointer of things to come. Kenya Ports Authority’s Abdullah Mwaruwa was retired last month and a replacement is yet to be found amidst lobbying that the job should be taken by someone from a coastal ethnic group.

At the Rift Valley Railways, South African Roy Puffet, was fired and his seat given to ODM backer, Mr Brown Ondego. Meanwhile, the government declined to extend the contract of a Canadian chief executive at the Kenya Power and Lighting Company. Mr Don Prescott’s job went to a Kenyan from the president’s ethnic group.

Last week’s debacle at the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) over its chief executive provided a glimpse of the tussles within government over political appointments. Labour Minister, John Munyes, used corruption allegations to dismiss NSSF Managing Trustee, Mrs Rachel Lumbasyo. The Labour Minister immediately appointed Mr Fred Rabong’o in her place.

The decision was met with uproar by NSSF’s staff. While Mrs Lumbasyo had spent years at the corporation before her appointment as Managing Trustee, Mr Rabong’o is a public relations consultant with no known experience in pension funds administration.

NSSF’s board of trustees, consisting of the Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU) and the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) immediately rejected the appointment by Munyes. The situation became complicated because a Managing Trustee in NSSF cannot make decisions without the approval of COTU and FKE.

The matter went to Raila’s office at Treasury Building and it was resolved that Mrs Lumbasyo complete her term at NSSF. However, almost immediately, Raila overturned the consensus and sent Mrs Lumbasyo packing. Raila instructed Munyes to recruit a new Managing Trustee in coming months. Canvassing for the job among the pool of political appointees is in high gear.

Within the same week, the government swept out the command of Kenya Prisons and replaced it with outsiders. The new prisons commissioner, Mr Isaiah Osugo, was an officer with the Criminal Investigations Department (CID). He will be assisted by former Administration Police commandant George Macgoye. Reaction from prison warders has been muted so far. The warders went on a mutiny several months ago protesting poor housing and corrupt leadership.

The Kenyan people are concerned that politicians are sacrificing merit and technical ability for the sake of pleasing their cronies. Truth is that the ordinary Kenyan is unlikely to get a civil service job any time soon. Majority of people whose names are being floated for top government jobs are individuals who were in public service since independence and who were previously fired for mismanagement.

It is these same individuals that are responsible for Kenya’s downturn as indicated by depressing economic and social statistics. State corporations took a downward plunge from which recovery has been difficult, if not impossible.

A large percentage of candidates being mentioned for political reward appointments have been implicated in corruption scandals that led to the collapse of strategic organizations. The irony is that these individuals are extremely wealthy and they don’t really need their old jobs back.

It appears that political appointees will get their wishes while qualified and hardworking citizens stagnate in the morass of unemployment. For such is the state of Kenya.

Mt Elgon MP got SLDF backing

A report on human rights abuses in Mt Elgon reveals that area Member of Parliament, Fred Kapondi, won the seat after rivals were threatened with death by the Sabaot Land Defence Force. However, Mr Kapondi’s electoral tactics were not unique. The report adds that in the past 15 years, all legislators from the constituency have used armed militias to get to parliament.

Mt Elgon. Its slopes have been witness to horrific torture and killings. Picture by BMS-Travellers

Mt Elgon. Its slopes have been witness to horrific torture and killings. Picture by BMS-Travellers

The report, released this week by Human Rights Watch graphically describes acts of torture committed by the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF) and Kenya’s security forces. In a sense, the people of Mt Elgon are under attack from the two protagonists.

Virtually all males over the age of 10 have been targetted, either for recruitment by the SLDF or for interrogation by the Kenya Army and Police. “Mt. Elgon is a mountain of women, all the men have gone,” lamented a widow who found her husband’s body at the Webuye mortuary, two weeks after he was abducted by the army.

Here are excerpts of the report by Human Rights watch, with damning evidence against Mr Kapondi:

Wilberforce Kisiero, the MP for the former ruling party KANU between 1982 and 1997 was widely cited as one of the proponents of violence in the district. He was implicated in the state sponsored clashes of 1991-93, and named in the Akiwumi report, the parliamentary investigation into the political violence of the 1990s.

John Serut, the MP from 2002 to 2007, and Fred Kapondi, the current MP elected in 2007, were accused by local residents and human rights organizations of working to recruit, train, and finance militia who intimidated opponents in the 1997, 2002, and 2007 elections.

Having initially worked together (Kapondi was formerly KANU party chairman in the district), by the time of the 2007 General Elections, Serut and Kapondi had fallen out, according to residents. After that, the SLDF began to target supporters of Serut, including Serut himself. An area chief explained that because Serut supported the Chepyuk III settlement scheme against the wishes of most within the SLDF, Kapondi got a chance to run the boys, and this gave him the political powerbase he needed to win the election.

A neighbor of Kapondi told how he was repeatedly harassed by SLDF ‘boys’ who had a training camp on Kapondi’s land. Another chief described Kapondi leading a recruitment drive in his area for young men to join the SLDF in 2006. Kapondi was arrested in April 2007 and charged with robbery with violence in Webuye court, a non-bailable offense. He was nominated as the ODM candidate while in custody and acquitted on December 13, 2007, just days before the election.

Court officials told Human Rights Watch that the prosecution case collapsed when witnesses started disappearing and others changed their stories. Human rights activists described seeing the court packed with known SLDF militia during hearings.

Kapondi and others were also named in parliament by the then MP, John Serut, who accused them of fueling the clashes. But Serut himself, along with Kisiero and another former MP, Joseph Kimkung, were named by the government spokesman in a report seeking to identify the backers of the violence. Local residents say they have all been involved at various stages.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: It should be noted that former MP, John Serut, was implicated in a sexual harassment case at Parliament Buildings involving a female parliamentary staffer. This was just days after he was sworn into office early 2003.

More excerpts from Human Rights Watch:

Origins of the Mt Elgon land dispute:
Land disputes between two clans of the Sabaot tribe began in the 1920s. Colonial authorities forced these groups out of the Trans Nzoia area in order to pave way for white settlers. The Sabaot clans resettled in Mt Elgon forest at two locations: Chebyuk and Chepkitale.

In 1968, Chepkitale was declared a game reserve and its inhabitants forced out. Inhabitants evicted from Chepkitale complained, and in 1971 the government initiated a resettlement program for the displaced at the other location, Chepyuk. In effect, the government was trying to force the inhabitants of two villages into the area occupied by one. Moreover, the resettlement exercise was placed in the hands of area chiefs, local land officials, provincial administrators, councillors and members of parliament, many of whom were accused of corrupt practices in the allocation of land.

The Kenyan government evicted people originating from both areas from various locations that had been designated parts of the settlement scheme, and made a second attempt to allocate the land, known as Chepyuk II in 1989. This was equally controversial.

In 1993 the government of President Daniel arap Moi annulled the Chepyuk settlement scheme completely and ordered the creation of a third scheme, Chepyuk III. By now the population had increased even further. Because of controversy and complications, Phase three was never fully implemented and remained an apparently dormant issue throughout the 1990s.

After the 2005 referendum, the third phase was finally implemented but the exercise was marred by massive irregularities. This was a feature of the broader political conflict between the then sitting member of parliament for Mt. Elgon, John Serut, and his then protégé the future MP, Fred Kapondi.

What is the Sabaot Land Defence Force?

The SLDF is an armed group organized and funded by local politicians, although the actual politicians in control have changed over time. The SLDF is very similar in its activities to the majimboist groups that were armed by the state in 1991-92 and 1996-97 to drive out non-Kalenjin groups (mostly Luhya in Mt. Elgon) who were unlikely to vote for the ruling KANU party. This happened in Mt. Elgon, as well as across the Rift Valley and coastal provinces in the elections of 1992 and 1997.

The political objectives of the SLDF become clear when one looks at the pattern of attacks, the ethnicity and political affiliation of the victims, and the relationship between the timing of violence and the electoral cycle. Basically, the SLDF, as with many other armed groups in Kenya, has twin purposes, on the one hand land-related objectives, and on the other to further the political aims of certain local leaders.

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More of this report on the Human Rights Watch website.

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